I want to work in the real world!
For the past nine months, in the background, I’ve been working on launching a new FinTech business with three other co-founders, hence my LinkedIn profile reading “in-stealth working on the next thing”.
It was the first time in a while I was super excited about a new business idea. Alas as Robert Burns famously put it
“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry!”
This is a post about what I learned from the whole experience:
- I want to work with people in the real world, I’m tired of working at home
- Don’t underestimate team chemistry, it’s not just about skill-set
This may read like a dear diary entry, but I thought it would be a good cathartic thing to do. Always be learning no matter what the experience!
Mid last year, an old manager of mine introduced me to three guys who were looking to launch an Ad-Tech business. Given my previous experience in this space the connection made perfect sense.
Two of the guys were Phd’s from a famous UK university, the other was an amazing designer! With the addition of my skill-set the thinking was that on paper we would make the perfect team (if only things were that simple).
The timing was perfect as I was coming towards the end of selling my startup (Motivii) that I sole-founded. Therefore the appeal of co-founders and a new venture was intoxicating!
We started chatting via Zoom and it almost felt like the early stages of dating! Taking it slowly with a number of team building (get-to-know you type sessions), we then quickly realised the ad-tech idea was not the one to pursue. So we explored others.
We hit on the idea of a direct-to-consumer investment platform which would deliver amazing returns for everyone.
The guys had been working with a renowned investor to systemise his quantitative investment methodology. Combining this human meets technology approach, with a slick user experience and compelling brand; we thought we were on to a winner!
At the end of the year we agreed to a fair equity split based on our experience. Coinciding with the sale of Motivii we all agreed to hit 2021 hard.
The calls and conversations started to ramp up. Given that lock-down was still in effect you would have thought most of this took place remotely….
Well technically no!
What I didn’t mention is that two of the guys lived with each other, the other one lived around the corner. They therefore they had the opportunity to work in person with each other, plus they had previously been in business together. Their team chemistry was already in place!
I brushed over this fact and we fell into a pattern of bi-weekly calls and slack chat.
The plan was to set the company up as a split based operation with tech in one city, operations, marketing, finance etc… in another (my city).
Fast forward to May this year and we were a few weeks away from going out to raise our seed round. Killer investment deck done, advance assurance in, company formed and early designs and models in place.
However, in retrospect things didn’t feel 100% right.
I ignored my feelings of being separated and isolated from the team. Plus I didn’t question how the other guys were feeling about interacting with a person 208.7 miles away, who they had never properly met.
Coinciding with the country starting to unlock, the guys suggested they should come down to my city and we could do some work in person. It’s about 5 hrs drive between the two cities, so not a quick trip by UK standards.
In preparation for the meeting my house was given the obligatory clean, dining room converted to meeting room, white-board installed, I even created a wi-fi hotspot called the new ventures name.
They pulled into my driveway, got out of the car and instantly something looked wrong… they seemed nervous?
After a strange meet-and-greeting, which included introductions to my wife, we headed to the newly converted meeting room to start our collaboration. However, it was instantly clear they had something to tell me.
One of them, who I’d spent lots of time with and who I really respect and like, took the lead, with almost tears in his eyes.
He informed me that they no longer wanted to run a split base operation. They were struggling with working remotely and even when things returned to normal they felt the distance between the two cities was too great.
Now, I could move cities, but that was never going to happen for a variety of family reasons.
It became instantly clear to me that I was out, and I had this feeling which can only be described as a relationship breaking up.
Amazingly, I held it together and rationally talked through the problem. I think they were expecting me to explode and react badly, hence perhaps why they felt so nervous.
However, I’ve always believed that overreacting makes things worse. I chose to be professional and amicable, because I liked the guys, they chose to come down and do it in person (kudos), and there is no point burning bridges just because you can.
After 30 mins of awkward conversation and accepting the reality of where we were at, we agreed we would revise the equity stakes and they headed off.
I was left feeling shocked, hurt and a bit confused. That being said I instinctively understood where they were coming from. If you asked me ‘would I prefer to base everything in one city?’, the answer would be a resounding yes!
This process (journey) made me realise two big things.
- I want to work with people in the real world, I’m tired of video calls. Don’t get me wrong I don’t mind a few days working from home, but when it comes down to exploring new ideas and creating that team chemistry nothing beats doing it in-person. Even working next to people, I love that impromptu conversation that sparks a new idea or simply makes you laugh and brightens up your day.
- Don’t underestimate team chemistry. Teams can work really well together remotely, and there are times when it’s essential. However, reflecting back I think that having a common bond which has been established in the ‘real-world’ first makes a huge difference to team performance. It’s extremely hard to work remotely, while others work in-person. It creates an imbalance in team chemistry which is hard to overcome.
Ultimately I think I underestimated the bond that my other co-founders already had, and how they were working in-person, while I was not.
I know (with hindsight) I ignored this imbalance due to my excitement of the idea and focus on team skills-set. I undervalued the personal-chemistry you need and how this plays in essential ingredient in binding a team together.
The process has been a learning experience and one I have no regrets about.
I hope we all find the right next thing. For me it’s about getting out and interacting in the ‘real world’, plus also changing that LinkedIn heading ;-)
Exploring new opportunities